Ann Arbor – Michigan needs wins this week in the Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, if the Wolverines hope to earn another spot in next month’s NCAA tournament.
Things were looking good for the defending Big Ten tourney champions earlier this month when the Wolverines were 29-10, ranked No. 16 and had a top-25 RPI.
But the Wolverines (35-19) will enter Wednesday night’s first-round game against Ohio State with an RPI of 37, losing nine of their last 15. They needed a great pitching effort from junior left-hander Brett Adcock in a 1-0 win over Illinois Thursday to guarantee a spot in the conference tourney, but lost the final two games in the series.
“It feels a little bit like we’re playing not to lose,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We play our best when we play aggressive and treat the field like it’s a giant playground and go out and attack each game, each inning, each pitch with as much enthusiasm as possible.
“We just have to go back to playing the way we play best, and that’s when we just focus on effort, focus on our attitude, staying connected with each other and playing with a lot positive energy and not worrying about what’s happening in the future."
No. 5 seed Michigan has enough to worry about in facing No. 4 seed Ohio State to open the double-elimination tournament. The Buckeyes have won 13 of their last 16, including a three-game sweep of the Wolverines May 13-15.
Michigan’s best game in the series in Columbus was the opener when Adcock (7-4, 2.66 ERA) was solid in a 3-2 loss. That was Adcock’s lone loss in his last six starts.
Senior center fielder Cody Bruder has been impressed with Adcock, saying: “When Adcock’s in the zone he’s pretty much unhittable. We pretty much know we’re going to have a quality start from him pretty much every time he’s out there. We just try to put up good numbers behind him and have him relax and settle into a groove for him to pitch easy.”
Adcock is bound to get some offensive support from Bruder, who is hitting a team-high .384 with two homers and 52 RBI. The Wolverines are hitting .304 as a team.
“He’s a clutch hitter, always gets big hits,” said Bakich of Bruder. “He’s done it this year and he did it last year. There’s no drill for that. There’s not something you can practice to be a clutch hitter. He has that quality that just allows him to be at his best when it means the most.”
Bruder said the Wolverines will have to be patient at the plate to be successful this week.
“It starts with Coach Bakich and instilling good pitch selection in us and really focus on using the opposite side of the field, especially with two strikes,” said Bruder. “It’s all about having excellent pitch selection, only swinging at pitches we can drive, and when we get those pitches, just make sure we get good contact on the barrel.”
Bruder also talked highly of freshman second baseman Ako Thomas, who has 29 walks and a .388 on-base percentage.
“Hats off to Ako, he works the count better than anyone I’ve seen in a while and that’s what we need him to do,” said Bruder of Thomas. “He’s always on base and makes things happen.”
Said Bakich of Thomas: “He has tremendous strike zone discipline for a young hitter. For his ability to see a lot of pitches, to hold the zone on borderline pitches, he has a very good ability to make pitchers work and get a quality at-bat.”
Overall, Bruder believes the Wolverines just need to relax and wins will follow.
“I feel like we’re focusing too much on each little detail out here and magnifying things that don’t need to be magnified too much,” Bruder said. “I just think we need to relax and have fun like we have all year and I’m sure we’ll be back in the driver’s seat in no time.”
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
At TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
All games on BTN; all times are Eastern.
Format is double-elimination.
Game 1: No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 6 Maryland at 10 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Michigan State at 2 p.m.
Game 3: No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 8 Iowa at 6 p.m.
Game 4: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Michigan at 10 p.m.
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 at 10 a.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 at 2 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 at 6 p.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 at 10 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 7 at 4:30 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 8 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9 at 10 a.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 10 at 2 p.m.
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11 at 6 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12 at 10 p.m. (if necessary; moves to 6 p.m. if Game 13 does not take place)
Game 15: Championship, Winner Game 12/14 vs. Winner Game 11/13, 2 p.m.